I created a 10-minute video documentary, showcasing my first encounter with the proboscis monkeys (bekantan) of South Kalimantan, and also my interview with the passionate lady who runs the bekantan rescue center in Banjarmasin. Watch the video then read my story.
I love animals, so one of my goals when visiting South Kalimantan was to see its official animal mascot in person, the proboscis monkeys (long-nosed monkey or bekantan in the local language, or its Latin name Nasalis larvatus). They are shy and gentle creatures and endemic to the large island of Borneo, and these days bekantans are endangered, no thanks to rampant human activities such as land clearing and deforestation. I am told that you’ll be hard-pressed to find them in the zoo even.
The bekantan rescue center is run independently by Amalia Rezeki, a hijab-wearing young woman with an impressive resume. She is a well-known proboscis monkey conservationist and biology lecturer at Universitas Lambung Mangkurat who has garnered countless accolades and recognition from government and private institutions alike for her work.
Amalia is also the chairperson of a non-profit organisation called Sahabat Bekantan Indonesia (SBI or Friends of Bekantan Indonesia) which focuses on championing for the conservation of these animals and works tirelessly to educate society about the importance of preserving their province’s mascot. Amalia is just 29 years old, highly motivated with a deep sense of self-awareness and care for these animals. I felt really in awe and inspired by her achievements and passion.
I originally had no idea I would be meeting Amalia as I left the arrangements to search for bekantans to my local host, Aisha. But when I saw Amalia opening the green gate to the center, I was star-struck and excited because I had watched Amalia in a documentary on Youtube before my trip to Indonesia and instantly recognised her. I felt like I was meeting up with an old friend and almost hugged her on the spot.
The Bekantan Rescue Center is a transit station for bekantans that have been displaced from their natural habitats or were injured due to various reasons (fire, electrocution, etc). Here, the animals are nursed back to health by Amalia’s team of volunteers before being released onto a protected island on Barito River called Pulau Bakut, about 20 minutes away from Banjarmasin, the capital city of South Kalimantan.
To help raise funds and awareness about bekantan, SBI has a program in which, for a fee, you can plant a young mangrove tree near the island. I did not have enough time to do this on this trip but I hope to do it in a future trip back to Kalimantan Selatan.
While I was browsing through a book which catalogued the achievements by SBI, I saw a photo from 2015 in which Amalia and a group of VIP’s cast the first stone at the site of the towering bekantan statue which is now the icon of Banjarmasin city near Martapura River.
She tells me that initially some people were against the construction of the landmark because it was akin to “menyembah berhala”, or worshipping idols (which is a no-no in for Muslims, the majority of faith holders in Indonesia). Amalia stresses that the statue is meant to educate the public and somehow construction proceeded as planned. The statue’s also a great crowd-puller and tourist attraction, so much so that locals like to compare it to Singapore’s Merlion. Quite frankly, I prefer the bekantan statue as it represents a real animal and a noble purpose and let’s face it, a monkey’s a whole lot cuter (no offence to my SG friends).
All in all, I had an enjoyable and educational day out at the bekantan rescue center and felt a little melancholic as I waved goodbye to the animals. I hope to see more bekantans in a future trip, this time swinging freely on trees on Pulau Bakut. I wish Amalia, her volunteers and the bekantans much succcess and all the support and love in the world.
To learn more about Amalia and her work with the bekantan monkeys (and how you can help them), visit www.bekantan.org